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Barbara Wheto - Raranga

As a young girl, Barbara Wheto always had a fascination with harakeke and the art of weaving. But growing up in an era where being Māori and Māori culture were scorned upon, she was never encouraged to explore the art form.

She recalls being punished as a young child for playing with harakeke, and from then on, she would hide in the bushes just to practice weaving.

“As far as my parents were concerned, being Māori was the worst thing that could ever happen. Weaving had always been something I’d wanted to do, but I was made to feel like it was wrong,” says Barbara.

In 2022, Barbara enrolled in Kāwai Raupapa Level 4, in Raranga, at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa after seeing an advert on Facebook to study locally in Kawerau.

This decision was one that Barbara was excited about after years of feeling like she had to hide her desire to weave, but it also came with a mixture of fear, knowing that she had never immersed herself in te ao Māori before.

“In the first class, my kaiako was talking about harakeke, and I thought, what the heck is harakeke? That’s how much I didn’t know. I was raised pākehā, and I know that world. I don’t know the Māori world, but I want to know. That has made me more determined to do what I’m doing.”

Now at 60 years old, Barabara has completed Toi Paematua Level 5 in raranga and will walk the stage to receive her tohu at this year's Kawerau graduation ceremony.

And she isn’t stopping there. This year, she has begun working towards her degree, studying Maunga Kura Toi – Bachelor of Māori Art at the Rotorua campus of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Barbara speaks highly of her kaiako, May Te Pou, who has been a great source of encouragement for her throughout her weaving journey.

“My kaiako went to the ends of the earth to support me, and she still does, even though I’m now a tauira in Rotorua. Studying raranga has been for me, and this is something that I have wanted since I was a child. Getting to study raranga has meant the world to me.”

Find out more about our Toi Māori (Arts) programmes.

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Published On: 16 May 2024

Article By: Cassia Ngaruhe

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